Hairdressers’ Penalty Rates Face The Chop

Published August 27, 2019 (last updated July 20, 2020)

Hair and beauty business groups are campaigning to slash the Sunday and public holiday penalty rates for over 89,000 employees, claiming they would use the reduction in labour costs to increase the hours of existing employees and hire more staff.

Employers want Sunday penalty rates cutback from double-time to time-and-a-half, and public holiday rates reduced from double-time-and-a-half to double-time and-a-quarter.

Across the hair and beauty industry, the hourly minimum Award rates for permanent staff on weekdays can range from $21.41 to $24.66 and casuals typically receive anywhere between $26.76 to $30.83. On Sundays, permanent employees are entitled to receive hourly pay ranging from $42.82 to $49.32, with employers seeking a new permanent rate of $32.11 to $36.99.

When the Fair Work Commission (FWC) cut Sunday and public holiday penalty rates in the retail, hospitality and pharmacy industries in 2017, it indicated penalty rates would also be reviewed in the hair and beauty industry.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said there were “obvious similarities” between the hair and beauty industry and the retail and pharmacy industries.

Opening hours were often the same and businesses operated from shopping strips and shopping centres, with many required to open on Sundays due to their leasing arrangements.

Employers and business operators say the cost savings from lower penalty rates would generate multiple advantages. For small business operators, it would mean many were no longer “unprofitable” and could increase their trading hours to meet customer demands, giving more work to existing employees and hiring more staff.

“For the same reasons that Sunday and public holiday penalty rates have been adjusted in the retail, hospitality and pharmacy industries, penalty rates need to be adjusted in the hair and beauty industry,’’ Mr Willox said.

“The existing penalty rates are no longer fair or relevant in contemporary workplaces.”

Unsurprisingly, industry unions have rebuffed the proposals, expressing that hairdressers and beauticians are already the “lowest-paid tradies” in Australia, and commonly exposed to exploitation.

If employers in the industry are successful in their bids to cut penalty rates, they warn of a ‘domino effect’ in other industries seeking penalty rate cuts.

Australian Workers Union (AWU) national secretary Daniel Walton said the employer bid should be of concern to workers in other industries.

“Everyone thinks it won’t happen to me,” Mr Walton said. “No one thought they were going to lose penalty rates in retail hospitality many years ago, but now they’re gone. Now they’re coming for hairdressers.

“Everyone who works on the weekend is in the crosshairs. We have to hold the line here or we are going to see penalty rates slashed across the board.”

Hair Stylists Australia, the national hairdressers union backed by the AWU, said employees already performed tough, physical work for low pay.

“Their day is spent on their feet dealing with potentially noxious chemicals,” said HSA spokeswoman Vanessa Watt. “They are frequently the victims of wage theft. And now the bosses want to slash their already modest pay. It’s disgraceful,” she said.

“This is an industry rife with workers getting bullied, harassed and stolen from. They are often not given breaks, and they are not provided with safe working conditions.”

“What Hair Stylists Australia is trying to do is empower workers in this female-dominated sector to come together and stand up for their rights.”

Information about current penalty rates for each industry Award can be found on the Fair Work Ombudsman’s website. In addition, Employsure offers business solutions for employers desiring personalised advice, and corresponding documents with confidence inspired by the protection.

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